Monthly Archives: July 2009

Comet Reads Twitter So U Don’t Have 2


Seriously. This is now reaching epic proportions!

The link she provides regarding Bryan Adams is more than a little relevant if your name is Lucas Piatt, and/or if you enjoy reflecting on Andrew Carnegie and Richard King Mellon. It is a very Pittsburgh way to resolve these tensions. Don’t we have a County budget shortfall and problems keeping Kane Regional health centers open?

Wait, really? And it’s not online? So I have to either buy a copy, or “join”? How [grits teeth] how totally fair.


How is this for a slogan for G-20 leaders: “Get to work, losers!”

Steel City Resolution for Iron City Beer **

Now the ball is in ICB’s court as to whether it’s going to submit to a payment plan, or get litigious. Updates probably on the way.

*-UPDATE: Here:

The brewer “let down the Water and Sewer Authority. They let down the workers at the brewery. And they let down the people of Pittsburgh at large,” said Scott Kunka, also a board member and the city’s finance director. (P-G, Rich Lord)

Beautiful! And by that logic, on to JPMorgan Chase.

A fine day for PGH’s Water and Sewer Authority, which, let us not forget, is chaired by State Rep. Don Walko, who, having earned a nomination to the Court of Common Pleas, hardly needs anybody anymore.

**-UPDATE 2: And just like that, it gets all kinds of interesting again. (Trib, Jeremy Boren)

Speaking of Beer and Politics

A lovely blog post by Michael Scherer:

No. Gates and Crowley plan to meet again in the coming weeks to deal with the actual dispute. In the meantime, the photo was all politics, an image of four men at a table drinking beer, a symbol instead of something real. The beer was important because it stood in for the substance. “What happened?” your coworker will ask at the water cooler. “They had a beer,” you will say. As the comedian Stephen Colbert observed after the darkest days of the previous presidency, “No matter what happens to America, she will always rebound–with the most powerfully staged photo ops in the world.” So it was, again.

The photo op can be a particularly nefarious beast for a healthy democracy, where issues are supposed to be resolved through debate and transparency. ( Swampland)

And it goes on like this at considerable length, and it’s correct as far as it goes, but I’m left thinking:

The Race Relations, Law and Order and Beer Summit today sent one crystal clear message by all three men involved: “That public fracas we had three weeks ago? It’s not really that bad. I don’t actually think these are bad people, and maybe I shouldn’t have said some of the things I said.” A healthful and necessary enough signal to the American people without having to parse words and overly-define things.

I’m also left thinking, “Isn’t it high time various political rivals and beefers in Pittsburgh got it together at least sufficiently to stage a phony Beer Summit photo-op?”

Authority Alert! Water and Sewer! Iron City Beer! 9:30 AM TOMORROW! **

This, care of anonymous blowhard Infinonymous:

In one corner, carrying water for the company that abandoned the city after taking millions in handouts from taxpayers, is the Ravenstahl administration. The boy mayor is said to be pressing hard to clear the liens and let the defaulting, departing, out-of-towners at Iron City off the hook. Why? (Infinonymous)

The Comet will require some more explanation on “said to be” “carrying water” in the present tense, Mr. Onymous.

In the other corner, pushing for at least $1 million in repayments of water and sewer bills is council member Patrick Dowd. (ibid)

We definitely need to inject some politics into Authority doings. That’s why the framers of the Home Rule Charter arranged that at least one member of Council shall serve on each of the Mayor’s city authorities, and a different Council member for each one ( 220). So this is all very wholesome, especially in a recession. Plus, apparently, there’s boxing, some kind of grudge match.

*-UPDATE: The Post-Gazette is on it:

Mr. Dowd has offered a resolution which could get a vote from the authority’s board today. His proposal reasserts the system’s $1 million claim to Iron City’s debt due to failure of the brewer to fulfill its renovation pledge. It also directs authority officials to set up a payment schedule with the company and submit it to the board within 60 days.

That is action worth supporting, on behalf of not only the public authority but also the many Pittsburgh customers who pay their water bills on time. (P-G, Edit Board)

Equal time: Tribune-Review, Edit Board.

**-UPDATE: Null Space sees all this as a shiny diversion. He’s right, of course, but we need to establish the idea of accountability at our authorities before we can expect it.

Back To The Corruption Beat…


We’ve talked and legislated “pay to play” politics nearly to death in this town, but we’ve never addressed the flip side of that coin: “Don’t pay or you won’t play”. Now we have a candidate who is raising that allegation in print.

I think if only one or two of these allegedly threatened business owners ever came forward, it would be an awfully big deal.

Developers: Not Necessarily Of One Mind

In the wake of a push by many in the community benefits movement for new laws mandating “living wage” compensation at state-subsidized developments, a letter from the head of the Urban Redevelopment Authority has fallen into wide circulation:

Dear URA partners,

As you may have read in the Post-Gazette, the City is engaged in a discussion regarding a potential ‘living wage’ policy for the City of Pittsburgh.

The discussion as framed by the Post-Gazette is the potential for a policy that would require developers and businesses receiving public funding to create ‘living wage’ jobs. While I think we all support the concept of living wages, we worry about putting the City at a competitive disadvantage as well as potential unintended detrimental impacts to City residents and neighborhoods. Whatever the outcome of this discussion, the implications for future City development and doing business in the City is sure to be long term.

We are asking that you make your opinion known to the Mayor’s Office, your City Councilmember, and the media. What would a living wage policy mean to your business, your tenants, your business district, etc.? If you request, your response to me will be kept in anonymity.

I sincerely hope to hear from you.

Thank you,

Rob Stephany

The Pittsburgh Comet echoes this request and offers the same assurances.

In addressing this solicitation to URA clients, Stephany may have been unintentionally inviting a skewed response sample. Think about all the developers which have not yet had the good fortune of having bids and applications approved by the city’s URA. In addition, think of those who have not even chosen to deal with the City of Pittsburgh for any number of reasons.

In response my forwarding along this e-mail, a local community organizer forwarded back to me an interesting perspective from a hotel operator on the Left Coast:

As the owner of a large hotel on Century Boulevard near Los Angeles International Airport, I am well aware of the opportunity for economic growth and prosperity in the area, fueled in part by an increasingly important hospitality industry.

Century Boulevard is home to the largest concentration of hotel rooms in Los Angeles County and has the highest industry revenue of all the region’s sub-markets. The hotels on the boulevard are enjoying higher occupancies than ever before, resulting in a tremendous increase in profits from previous years. However, the corridor is still a relative bargain for travelers when compared to other markets in the county and those around other major international airports. (LAT, Peter Dumon)

Sound relevant so far?

Management and labor need to stop fighting each other on the living wage law. There should be one simple goal: serving the traveling public. If we do this well, we can easily afford to pay our associates a living wage.

Although this is in the interest of many constituencies, hotel owners are really the ones who stand to gain the most from dropping their illogical opposition to the law. A vigorous, well-trained labor market benefits our bottom line. Dedicated and fairly compensated workers committed to a career in the industry will help us increase our guest-satisfaction levels while reducing employee turnover. In short, the living wage is a profit-enhancing idea. (ibid)

To this, I would only add that for many kinds of retail developments — setting aside hotels for a moment — an economically secure workforce also contributes to a vigorous and more stable local consumer base.

True, Mr. Dumon appears to have penned the above only after a living wage ordinance in LA became law and was upheld in court. Yet at the same time, he is testifying not only that doing so did not constitute the end of the world, but that there was an affirmative upside.

I wonder if we can find similar thinking in Western PA. If we can’t, I wonder what we can do to get some.

Community Benefits vs. BUILD BABY BUILD! *

Sounds like we had a lively discussion today:

Pittsburgh City Council may wade into a worsening dispute between several labor and community groups and Mayor Luke Ravenstahl’s administration by considering a living wage requirement for publicly backed development, Council President Doug Shields said today. (P-G, Rich Lord)

A worsening dispute? I thought it was a bettering dispute.

First, if you have not done so already, go listen to Undermayor Yarone Zober. His comments are remarkably well in-line with those previously made by Rob Stephany, Director of the URA, in response to hesitancy on City Council to approve state subsidies for a Bakery Square parking garage. Stephany even led off with, “Economic Development Equals Community Benefits”, so this is all the Administration’s very well-considered argument against CBA’s.

Now, a chart of where city tax revenues actually go is right here. Notice that there is no large circle for “Job Training”, although I suppose that endeavor could fall somewhere into the tiny $3.8 million lime-green bubble for “miscellaneous”. Note also that although sizable bubbles for “Police” and “Public Works” do exist, even those are humbled by immutable totals for “Debt Service” and “Pension, Health Benefits, and Workers Compensation”. These will only be growing in coming years, demanding more of our resources. So this means that it’s not particularly rational to believe that a significant portion of tax revenue generated by these new developments are going to go towards beat cops and improved infrastructure in our poverty-stricken communities — let alone whatever the residents in them are actually fighting for.

As to the jobs generated by these developments — I don’t think I can make a better argument than was made by Janice Parks HERE. Many of the sorts of jobs we are creating, particularly those in the hotel, restaurant and hospitality businesses, simply don’t seem to pay the kind of wages necessary to sustain a family — not even if you have two such jobs at the same time.

“Really, it comes down to creating jobs that pay the bills,” [Doug Shields] said, adding that people working in subsidized office buildings shouldn’t have to live in subsidized housing. (ibid)

How is a City supposed to thrive if even hard-working parents can’t keep their children safe, and provide them with hope and opportunity? Does the City realize how many of its neighborhoods and parts of neighborhoods are beat down and on the downswing?

Now, if you haven’t seen it already, Infinonymous annotated Zober’s performance and critiqued parts of it at length. Here is one portion I enjoyed, in response to Zober fretting over the “fairness” of seeking a CBA to benefit just one part of town:

Seems at least as fair as expecting the North Side to bear the brunt of parking, vandalism, public urination, and similar problems associated with venues developed on the North Side. Perhaps residents recall the manner in which the Heinz Field liquor license was ramrodded to issuance overriding standard Liquor Control Board practices, or the recurring sound issues, or have little faith in the assurances of a family whose appraisal of the situation included an apparently sober claim their fans do not become intoxicated at Steelers games.

You have to start somewhere, so why not start on the North Side in light of this unavoidably divisive North “Shore” development plan.

Of course, we already started experiments with CBA’s in the Hill District, which reminds me: Zober frequently referenced the unity of opinion among himself, the Mayor and the County Executive as evidence that CBA’s are a poor idea.

It should be pointed out that Allegheny County Chief Executive Dan Onorato was the first public official that I know of to take a strong public stand in favor of specific community benefits for the Hill District — including something very much like the $10 million development fund that the Hill District ministers originally demanded. Were it not for Onorato going on television and lending support to those strident demands, likening them to what he himself accomplished as a Pittsburgh City Council Member for his North Side, the One Hill CBA likely would never have come close to a reality. In addition, though Onorato later retreated so far behind the scenes he may have been in another zip code, he stuck by those Hill District ministers through the bitter end in nominating Rev. Johnny Monroe to the Steering Committee, which is to produce a community-oriented Master Plan.

In spite of everything else, Dan Onorato demonstrated some major empathy, major willingness to innovate, and major loyalty for his role in producing the Hill CBA. I’m not entirely sure where he stands on the “One Time Only Special Situation” question so I’m not going to speak for him — but I’m not positive City leaders can rely on him to buttress a position against Community Benefits packages.

Then again Mr. Zober was obviously at his very happiest when he was able to say the Governor supports his boss’s stance on economic development, so maybe this is all a much larger subject.

More from today:

Thats why its troubling to hear that this Mayor’s policy now seems to be that all Community Benefit Agreements are dead on arrival. CBAs can be a valuable tool to attract private investments that benefit the entire community. They can provide good union jobs, help alleviate poverty, and help solidify the middle class in their communities.

A successful CBA requires a Mayor willing and able to bring all parties together to work for a fair outcome for everyone.

That was Independent mayoral candidate Kevin Acklin at today’s hearing.

Notice he didn’t say anything about “giving those groups whatever they want”. He also implies that if there is a question over which groups should be a party to a CBA (Zober suggested some potential friction between the NSLC and NU for example) and what issues should be on table, it should be a Mayor’s job to make sure everyone is treated fairly. It’s an opportunity to exhibit mayorship is what it sounds like.


Now finally.

I see there is legislation on the table, and it has to do with establishing a minimum wage for publicly-subsidized developments, and perhaps maybe some other things or some other things shortly.

I want to point this out. It seems most CBA movements are coalitions among three kinds of concerns:

1) LABOR CONCERNS who really seem only to want to add muchly-needed steroids to the trickle-down theory of economics — making sure those jobs which are generated are good-paying union jobs that provide health benefits and other protections, to a diversity of workers.

2) ENVIRONMENTAL CONCERNS who are sort of the green-headed stepchildren of the coalition at times, but who also may have the best chance of succeeding in Pittsburgh right now, since Mayor Ravenstahl is actually pretty good on environmental issues. (Read Thomas Hoffman’s FB note, Why Environmentalists Should Support the Northside United Campaign)

3) GRASSROOTS CONCERNS whose priorities are idiosyncratic — the best (most innovative) ideas and the worst (least well-researched) ideas are likely to be generated by these sources. Matters of history and culture, of education and recreation, of the neighborhoods’ building stock, of funding for entrepreneurial non-profits, and perhaps most importantly City and Neighborhood Planning — these things can be found here.

Most of the organizing talent and resources do seem to tend to stem from Universe #1 and to an extent Universe #2. When I reflect on this legislation, on the Hill CBA experience, and the passion with which trade unionists subscribe to trade union principles, I worry that the Grassroots category can so easily get lost in the shuffle — or cast aside due to PR concerns — or evaporate once the labor concerns are sufficiently addressed and a “win” can be racked up.

I personally think that would be a huge shame because some of these neighborhoods require direct investment by either developers aiming to win public confidence, or by an Urban Redevelopment Authority which should be … well, redeveloping our urban fabric with all the State and Federal money it does receive precisely due to Pittsburgh’s high poverty rates.

In other words, I don’t think any particular legislation, as good as it may be, can ever reduce or eliminate the need for community-specific innovation and engagement with city government and the private sector together. That doesn’t mean I think the new legislation is bad, I just think it’s beside some of the points — I don’t want to replace a negotiative, participatory model with a formulaic one.

*-NOTE: None of the above, it must be admitted, actually addresses the core of the real argument against CBA’s, which is, as they say: “The developers aren’t keen to it”. Call that a discussion topic for until I return — though commenter “n’at” already had something relevant to say along those lines in this post.

The Hospitality Industry

As you know there is a formal City Council public hearing scheduled for Monday, and there is proposed legislation that will be aired at that.

But seriously — now what?

“I see the hospitality industry coming back to Pittsburgh,” said Ernest Williams, an employee of the Pittsburgh Hilton and a member of SEIU. “Our first goal should be to protest Continental hotel, which is on the North Side,” he added. (P-G, Karamagi Rujumba)

No objections over here! I’d say also the airborne hotel in the East End merits a truly lusty protesting. Ordinarily it’s risky to divide one’s forces, but such a thing would illustrate the City-wide nature of the grievances, as well as the administration’s specific track record when it comes to working people.

“Air-rights” for a 2nd floor hotel. Never let it be said that Pittsburgh city government is not innovative.

Also, we have must-read material: the Trib’s Carl Prine.

Youth Peace Rally Pittsburgh 2009

A crowd gathered in Market Square on a beautiful Tuesday afternoon for the MGR Youth Peace Rally (remember?). What you see above is one of the many musical, poetic and oratorical performances spread out over a program that lasted well over three hours.

Young people clad in red t-shirts, purple t-shirts, yellow t-shirts — whole discrete lineups of a dozen or more children from different sections of town — were ushered on stage, through green rooms, and back out into the audience like clockwork. Some adults too.

If anyone can provide the names of these particular artists, by all means please do! More video of this event will be appearing randomly on YouTube.

Yarone Zober on Development and CBA’s

Lots to discuss, will have to wait but feel free to start without me. Might need to plug in some speakers and crank it in the meanwhile.